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In various sports, a forfeit is a method in which a match automatically ends and the forfeiting team loses.
There are two distinct forms of forfeiture. One occurs when a team is unable to meet the basic standards for playing the game, either before the game begins or as a result of actions that happen during the match. In such a case, the team not forfeiting wins the match. The other is punitive forfeiture, in which a team has been found to have broken the rules of a sanctioning body during a match they have won and must have the results stricken from the record; whether or not the other team receives a win in such a case depends on the rules of that body.
Both teams must have at least seven players at the beginning of the match per the IFAB/FIFA rules. When a team has fewer than seven players, the match cannot start or continue. When the number of players in a team falls definitely below seven (e.g. by five players sent off with red cards, or by injured players with no substitutions left, or a combination of both), the match is forfeited. Forfeits are also used as ex post disciplinary sanctions by governing bodies.
A forfeited match is handled differently in various competitions; FIFA Disciplinary Code punishes the team sanctioned with a forfeit with a 3–0 loss (but the result on the pitch is upheld if the goal difference at the end of the match was greater than three).
In rare cases, baseball games are forfeited, usually in the event when a team is no longer able to play.
In basketball rules published by FIBA, a forfeit and default are two different things. A team will forfeit if:
- Fifteen minutes after the scheduled starting time, the team is not present or is unable to field five players ready to play.
- Its actions prevent the game from being played.
- It refuses to play after being instructed to do so by the referee.
A forfeit results in loss for the offending team, a score of 20−0, and in tournaments that use the FIBA points system for standings, 0 points. Furthermore, in FIBA tournaments that use a two-game home-and-away series (two-legged tie) or a best-of-three playoff format, a team that forfeits any of the games loses the series by forfeit.
In FIBA tournaments, a forfeit is different from a default, a situation if during the game, the team has fewer than two players (e.g. one or zero players) on the playing court ready to play. In this case, the opponents are awarded with a win, and if they are leading, the score at the time of stoppage will be the final score; if it they are not leading, they are awarded with a 2−0 win. Furthermore, in FIBA tournaments that use a two-game home-and-away series, a team that defaults in either game loses the series by default.
In tournaments and leagues that use winning percentage to rank teams, the difference between a forfeit and a default is negligible; however, for those that use the FIBA points system, a default is treated like an ordinary loss, as the team earns one point. Meanwhile, a team that forfeited earns no points. It is also more detrimental in tiebreaking situations as a defaulting team's worst result is the actual score if they were trailing when the game was stopped, or a 2–0 loss if they were trailing. A forfeit costs a 0–20 loss, and drags down a team's goal average worse than a 0–2 loss would.
In U.S. NCAA basketball, a referee decides a game is to be forfeited when any of these criteria are satisfied:
- Any player, squad member or bench personnel fails to comply with any technical-foul penalty or makes a travesty of the game.
- When conditions warrant.
- A team refuses to play after being instructed to do so by an official.
The forfeiting team loses the game 2−0, unless 30 minutes have lapsed in the game clock; in this case, the score at the end of play shall stand. When the team that is behind in the scorebook is to be declared the winning team, that score shall be marked with an asterisk in the official statistics; and it shall be noted that the game was won by forfeit.
The rules of the National Basketball Association do not mention how forfeitures are dealt with, but mention it is a possible sanction on a player or coach who violates the rules on ejections. Also, in the NBA, defaulting is virtually impossible, unless ejections bring a team to fewer than five players. When five players remain in a game, and one fouls out, a technical foul is called when a player who has fouled out is forced to remain in the game, or when, after an injury, a player who fouled out of the game previously returns to the game. These technical fouls are declared non-unsportsmanlike conduct fouls, for which no player or coach may be ejected.
In the sport of cricket a forfeiture occurs when a captain chooses to forfeit one of his side’s innings.
In the Gaelic games of hurling, Gaelic football, camogie and ladies' Gaelic football, a forfeit is called a walkover (Irish: bua gan choimhlint). As well as losing the game, the team that gives a walkover in a competition may receive further punishment, such as a fine, deduction of league points or automatic relegation.
The most famous walkover in GAA history came in the 1910 All-Ireland Senior Football Championship Final; the match was scratched and Louth were awarded the championship as Kerry refused to travel to Dublin for the final because the Great Southern and Western Railway would not grant fans, players and officials discounted fares for the trip.
In American football, a team must begin with at least eleven people ready to play; a forfeiture occurs if a team does not have that many. It can also occur when the number of able players drops to below seven (the number legally required to man a line of scrimmage) at any point during game time, as a result of an unfair act, or punitive retroactive sanctions against a team from a governing body such as the NCAA.
In the event the team forfeiting the game is already losing at the time of the forfeit, the score at the time stands as is. Otherwise, forfeits result in a 2-0 score in the National Football League or a 1-0 score in high school football, NCAA and Canadian football.
In the case of high school and the NCAA, the forfeit is one of only two ways to finish with a score of only one point (the other is if a team's only score comes from a botched conversion attempt that results in their opponent getting backed all the way back into their own end zone).
The National Football League rulebook has a provision for forfeiture but has never used it (there was at least one alleged "forfeit" in the 1921 NFL season, but because league schedules were so fluid in the 1920s and it was never clear who was at fault for the game not being played, the league now considers it a cancellation, which was very common at the time). Former NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle noted that he had never used the league's forfeit provisions and would never change the result of a game after the fact, a stance that prevented the result of the Snowplow Game, a game that had been decided on an acknowledged but unpunished unfair act, from being forfeited. It was briefly discussed as a potential punishment during Spygate but never implemented.
The NCAA also uses punitive forfeiture in other sports. The Arena Football League has had one forfeit in its history, which came in 2012 as a result of a player's strike. In another case in 2015, two teams ceased operations prior to the end of the season, and because they were both slated to play each other, the game was recorded as a scoreless tie.
A related concept is the vacation, in which the team's wins are stricken from the record, but no loss is put in its place, and a team that lost in a game where the win was later vacated is still counted as a loss. The NCAA bylaws allow wins to be vacated as a form of punishment; the NFL does not.
In cases where a poker game is arranged but an opponent drops out, that person forfeits and remaining players win at that player's expense.
- IFAB: Laws of the Game 2016/2017, Law 3
- "FIFA Disciplinary Code" (PDF). FIFA. 2011. p. 21. Retrieved 2016-08-09.
- "Board to investigate increasing fines for clubs failing to field teams in the League".
- "The Kerry Footballers Strike of 1910".
- "Historic Louth All Ireland-winning medals set to go under the hammer".